The Knox Student (TKS): Where did you go to school?
Kelton Williams (KW): I did my undergraduate at Emory & Henry College in southwestern Virginia. That’s a little school, and it’s similar to Knox with about 1,000 students. And then I did my graduate work at Texas A&M University.
TKS: What was your focus in your graduate work?
KW: My actual degree is in curriculum and instruction, but my focus was in education history, and I focused more specifically on citizenship education and how public schools have tried to develop citizens.
TKS: What got you interested in that area?
KW: I taught public school for about four years, and a lot of that came through my experiences having taught social studies and trying to teach citizenship or even ideas peripheral to citizenship, like government, [along with] my own struggles with trying to interpret what it means to teach citizenship to students that may or may not really give a damn. In my mind, I had this idea that a lot of people seemed to think that we used to teach good citizenship, so I was trying to examine when was that period and what did we actually do to teach good citizenship.
TKS: So what does teaching good citizenship look like to you?
KW: The problem is trying to find a balance between, especially if we’re talking about American citizenship for example, a sense of commonality through which we identify ourselves as being American and what that means without stereotyping or excluding groups from that idea of citizenship, especially if groups don’t fit into any sense of commonality. So it’s hard. I guess the short answer is that rather than a prescriptive model of teaching citizenship – that is, this is what it means to be a good citizen – it’s more exploratory in having students discuss and debate ideas of citizenship in the class.
TKS: What brought you to Knox?
KW: Like I said, the school that I went to is a lot like Knox. It’s actually smaller; it has 1,000 students. I developed some really close relationships with professors that had encouraged me to go to grad school. I knew coming out of undergrad that I wanted to work at a school like Emory & Henry and ultimately like Knox. In fact, when I sat down in my first discussion with my dissertation chair, he asked what my career goals were, and I said, “I want to work at a small, liberal arts college.” When I was finishing my dissertation and I was looking for jobs, I saw that Knox had a position open. I had heard of Knox a little bit through a paper I had written earlier in grad school on labor colleges in the 19th century, so when I saw that, I was pretty excited. And it certainly met all of the ideals I had set for the kind of place where I wanted to work. And it’s lived up to that so far.
TKS: What are your areas of interest for teaching at Knox?
KW: Having come out of a political science background, having taught history, having dabbled in politics and policy a little bit, I have a really interdisciplinary interest, both in my research and in my teaching. One of the things I really like about my position at Knox … is it seems like there are lots of opportunities to explore teaching in different fields or bringing different fields into my classroom, whether it’s history or politics or whatnot. That’s a big goal for me, but also I really prefer … discussions on different levels, discussing the issues. I think a lot of the talks we have in education aren’t things I can simply tell you the answers to; it’s more about the concepts we have to talk through in order to get to any sort of understanding.
TKS: How does the Galesburg community fit into your teaching goals?
KW: I hesitate to speak too much to that because I’m still learning Galesburg … But from what I’ve been told and what I’ve seen so far, it certainly seems that the town is still reeling economically from the loss of the Maytag plant and just the general economic decline. And it seems like there are opportunities for bright and energetic kids at Knox to engage with the community and represent model ideas of citizenship in various ways, through whatever avenues they see fit. And if I can help with encouraging that and finding those avenues as I become more familiar with the college and the community, I’d love to participate in that.